Glacier Adventure: Day 5

Faced with a full day of rainy weather, we had to decide between heading west to North Fork or south to Two Medicine. Considering the North Fork trip would include repeating our sojourn along the Going-to-the-Sun Road, we opted for Two Medicine, the primary destination for travelers arriving by train prior to the road’s construction. Two Medicine was named for double medicine lodges set up by separate Blackfeet clans for a religious ceremony known as the Okan, or Sun Dance. The valley has three pristine lakes in a chain, nearby waterfalls, and a dozen mountains, dominated by Rising Wolf, the highest peak at 9,510 feet.

Two Medicine Lake was the site of a tepee camp established by the Great Northern Railway in 1911, a year after the park opened. Tents had wood floors, cots, and a washstand. Guests were charged 50 cents a night, and took their meals in a rustic log dining hall, the first permanent structure at the site. Eventually, log chalets were added to the enclave, with luxuries such as telephone communication with Glacier Park Hotel, electricity provided by an on-site generator, and cold running water in all rooms. A central toilet/laundry building was constructed to provide washrooms and hot baths. In 1915, the dining hall was replaced by a larger, two-story structure that still stands today as a camp store (and a National Historic Landmark). We found a small lunch concession inside, and enjoyed potato soup and elk sausage next to the building’s grand fireplace.

Over time, amenities for tourists were expanded to include a 38-foot passenger tour boat, built and piloted by Captain Billy Swanson. As holder of the boat concession license, he went on to develop a business that his descendants still operate today. We boarded the Sinopah (Blackfeet for Kit Walk Woman), a boat he built in 1926 (now the oldest boat in continuous use) to tour the lake and hear tales of how the mountains were named.

President Franklin Roosevelt and his family visited Two Medicine in 1934, with the president addressing the nation by radio while seated next to the dining hall’s grand fireplace. “Today I have seen Glacier Park,” he said. “Perhaps I can best express to you my thrill and delight by saying that I wish every American, both old and young, could have been with me today. The great mountains, the glaciers, the lakes and the trees make me long to stay for the rest of the summer.”

Roosevelt’s trip did wonders for tourism to Glacier, boosting visitation generally and making Two Medicine one of the most visited areas in the park.

Today, with Going-to-the-Sun Road considered a modern convenience for seeing Glacier’s high country, Two Medicine receives less attention. But visitors who venture off the beaten path are rewarded with wild views, backcountry adventure, casual boat tours, and Native American history.

We learned a few lessons worth sharing:

  1. Never let a rainy day deter you from discovery.
  2. Driving within range of a cell tower, if only for a few minutes, is like providing a sip of water to a thirsty sojourner in the desert.
  3. Sometimes, the only bear you’ll see is a guy with the bad knee who boards the boat and then disembarks in disgust because he doesn’t have a place to sit, but then refuses to reboard when several people offer him their seat.